Oliver Katz
Jacques Vaché and the Roots of Surrealism Book review

a review of

Jacques Vaché and the Roots of Surrealism, including Vaché’s War Letters & Other Writings, by Franklin Rosemont, illustrations by Jacques Vaché, 2008, Charles H. Kerr Publishing, 388 pp.

In early January 1919, a twenty-four year-old army translator named Jacques Vaché was found dead in a hotel room after a long weekend of partying. Not much is known about him--he was born in France to a French father and British mother, spent some time as a child in French Indochina, was drafted into the army as a translator when the First World War began in 1914, suffered a shrapnel wound in 1916, and that he smoked a fatal dose of opium about six weeks after the war was over. All that remains of his works are a couple of book reviews from a pre-war ‘zine he published with friends, about a hundred letters to friends and family from the battlefield, some experimental writings, and assorted drawings and doodles. Yet somehow Vaché, “a master of the art of attaching very little importance to everything,” has emerged to become a critical missing link between the most revolutionary cultural currents of late Symbolism, dada, and surrealism in early twentieth-century Europe.